JOURNALISTS at the Thurrock Gazette and the Evening Echo as well as other major Newsquest newspaper titles across Essex are being balloted for industrial action over pay.
The NUJ chapels at Essex County Newspapers in Colchester and Newsquest South East Essex say they have been forced to take action over the company’s failure to negotiate adequately over pay.
Members are also concerned at plans by the employer to impose a single pay anniversary for all editorial staff, which would leave some members waiting until June 2013 before even being considered for a wage increase.
The announcement of the ballots in Essex comes as journalists at Newsquest centres around the UK are hearing the news that their pay will be frozen, with reviews carried out later in the year.
If no pay awards are made in 2012 it will be the third year in four that Newsquest journalists’ salaries have stood still.
While thousands of staff were forced into the second year of a pay freeze in 2009, company accounts show that the pay of the firm’s chief executive Paul Davidson rose by 21.5% to £609,000.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary said: “Staff have done all they can to support quality journalism and the Newsquest titles they work for. Now it’s time for the company to recognise it should pay staff a fair wage.”
Will Lodge, Father of the Newsquest North Essex chapel, said members had decided to ballot because they were feeling the financial squeeze and were fed up with a lack of consultation from management.
He said: “After two years of a pay freeze and a paltry two per cent rise last year, members are feeling the squeeze on their wallets.
“Wages are now 13 per cent below what they would be if they had matched inflation, equalling a £2,670 real-terms pay cut for someone on a £20,000 salary in 2008. This is without taking into account other factors such as increased tax contributions.
“When the amount staff are paying for food, fuel and other bills keeps rising higher than their salary managing their income becomes a real struggle.
“Members are not opposed to standardising their pay dates, but are extremely concerned that people with a pay review in the second half of the year face waiting until June 2013 to be considered for a pay rise.
“The threat of a pay freeze now or a possible pay rise in June also feels like a carrot being dangled in front of our noses, with no guarantee it won’t be snatched away to help plug holes elsewhere in the budget.
“When we see reports of how much top Newsquest and Gannett executives are being paid, it makes us wonder howmuch of a hit profit margins are taking compared to the hit on our wages.
“To deny those on the ground making the company profitable a pay rise to line the pockets of a faceless executive is bordering on the criminal.”
Sally King, Mother of the Newsquest South Essex chapel added: “No-one takes voting for industrial action lightly, but members feel they have been ignored for too long.
“It is ridiculous that staff, who are graduates with post-graduate training and years of experience, are having to take second jobs just to meet bills. This year alone at this centre, we have had two members of staff leave the profession because they felt they just couldn’t afford to work here.
“We recognise the economy is in a bad way and the company is not making the profits it has enjoyed in the past, but it isstill a very profitable business, owned by one of the world’s most successful publishing companies. We believe more money could be made available to editorial staff.”